[lit-ideas] Re: Turing, Grice, Wittgenstein - Functionalism

  • From: John McCreery <john.mccreery@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Fri, 13 Jan 2012 17:55:22 +0900

Donal, could you or someone else here describe what philosophers mean by
"functionalism"? When I hear the term, what leaps to mind is a now
discredited sociological proposition that societies are homeostatic systems
maintained by negative feedback. "Functions" can mean all sorts of things
from x=f(y) to a dress-up party. It would help a lot to know what, in
particular, we are talking about.


On Fri, Jan 13, 2012 at 5:33 PM, Donal McEvoy <donalmcevoyuk@xxxxxxxxxxx>wrote:

> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Jlsperanza@xxxxxxx" <Jlsperanza@xxxxxxx>
> >O. T. O. H., Grice, was was not a mathematician, nor a logician, nor a
> cryptanalyst, nor a computer scientist, thought highly of Turing. Grice
> endorsed, contra Popper, a strong form of FUNCTIONALISM (in "Method in
> philosophical psychology", repr. in his second book, "The conception of
> value").  For
> functionalism, the mind is a Turing machine:>
> Some sort of 'functionalism' is what I took to underpin Turing's
> 'Imaginary Game', though his is a tendentious rather than explicit way of
> proposing a functionalist approach. (Perhaps we should turn to
> 'functionalism' as a topic, pro and con. As Grice defends it, JLS would
> have a stake in the game.) But I will indicate why I don't think
> Wittgenstein should be taken as a functionalist (though elements of
> Wittgenstein's approach may be viewed as 'functionalist-friendly').
> Wittgenstein's earlier and later philosophy both have an opaque character
> [being open to various interpretation; given what Wittgenstein says, it
> unclear often exactly what his point is] but I do not think the later (or
> earlier) Wittgenstein was a 'functionalist' - simply that he may be taken
> this way in much the same way that his later philosophy of mind could be
> read as 'behaviourist'. The better interpretation, I suggest, is that
> Wittgenstein in his later period is not to be aligned to any (metaphysical)
> '-ism': rather, as per the earlier Wittgenstein, his is still an
> anti-metaphysician:- but where the TLP declared metaphysics 'nonsense',
> albeit sometimes most important non-sense, (the upshot being we should not
> try to speak 'metaphysically' as we are at best trying to say what cannot
> be said), his later approach is more nuanced. But it is similar in that
> when we try to pin down a metaphysics by way of some -ism (like
> 'functionalism' or 'solipsism' or 'empiricism' or 'idealism' or 'dualism'
> or 'monism') for Wittgenstein we are in effect trying to say what cannot be
> said but at best only shown. So if you ask later Wittgenstein whether a
> thought is a merely material or physical entity, you will not get an answer
> a la Popper where a World 2 is distinguished from a World 1 (or indeed a la
> traditional philosophy insofar as it hinges on a mind-body dichotomy):-
> what Wittgenstein might want to do is find out what exactly you think you
> are trying to say by claiming, or denying, that thought is merely material;
> and then he would seek dissolve the misleading metaphysical pictures (or
> conceptual confusions) that are thrown up by this kind of thinking -
> dissolve them by showing how they lead to both patent nonsense and
> disguised nonsense. But at the root of Wittgenstein's method is an absence
> of any clear metaphysical stance in the sense of an -ism. This is because
> the divide between sense and nonsense cannot be said it can only be shown
> (this is a thesis common to both the earlier and later Wittgenstein, who
> may be characterised as having two distinct philosophies of sense and
> nonsense and of 'showing not saying''); so any attempt to mark the divide
> by a clear metaphysical stance is a futile attempt to 'say' what can only
> be 'shown'. And what is 'shown' by looking at the interlocking complexity
> of 'language games', as set out in 'Philosophical Investigations', seems to
> tell against any clear metaphysical stance.
> Now one way to characterise 'functionalism' is that it seeks to side-step
> the metaphysics of what is at stake by translating problems into
> 'functionalist' terms (as indeed does Turing with his 'Imaginary Game');
> and, given that Wittgenstein's later philosophy also eschews taking any
> clear metaphysical stance, we can see how 'functionalism' might easily be
> attributed to the later Wittgenstein, though this would perhaps be a
> mistake.
> Donal
> Salop

John McCreery
The Word Works, Ltd., Yokohama, JAPAN
Tel. +81-45-314-9324

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